By Barbara Farkas

Congressional candidate Jessica Morse in an excellent guest opinion cited the expense of preventing and fighting expensive wildfires resulting from lack of Congressional funding to prevent rapid spread of fires due to lack of clearing by the Forest Service.

Yes, the diminished funding has created this part of the problem although since the Rim Fire, a coalition of special interests have met and worked to solve this underlying problem of managing forests and preserving riparian habitat along with valuable watershed components.

This article seems to say that only Tuolumne County and the U.S. Forest Service are working together when both are a part of the collaborative of many stakeholders and conservationists who support protection of various resources such as water, habitat, and the agriculture component of grazing, mining and logging.

The county always welcomes more money into its coffers although all the money in the world cannot compensate for poor land-use planning decisions. The expensive part of fighting wildfires is the protection of property owned by those who wish to exert their private property rights by building in or near our forests on most parcels that are considered today, to have a zone designation as “high fire danger” due to the lack of water, roads, and access to fire protection facilities.

The Board of Supervisors approved “new community” Mountain Springs, which was incorporated into the General Plan in 2008, was designed for over 600 units, off a remote and narrow country road, approximately three miles from Sonora, with only one access route into the entire 900 acre development.

Due to this project’s fire safety demands and the proposed Peaceful Oaks development, we now have fire protection from the multi-million dollar facility at Striker Court on Tuolumne Road, which has an approximate travel time of up to 15 minutes on narrow cross country roads to the entrance of Mountain Spring’s 900 plus acres.

Approximately six years ago the building industry worked with county administration to introduce a study, for the reduction of the growth fees for services required of new development. Eager to please Supervisors managed to reduce fees for fire protection services.

Have those reduced fees received reconsideration during the budget development and proposals? Supposedly the growth fees were to be reviewed every two years to keep up with costs of services provided. Was this the process for our stressed 2017 budget?

Our Board of Supervisors continues to support the myth of “development” as economic growth when studies and data reflect costs of services as far greater than revenues derived from sprawl and rural development.

The costs of limited fire protection services in lost property and lives, must be corrected with better decisions made by our county’s land use and planning policies. The revised Draft General Plan will be out for public review this year and all citizens must look at this element of “fire safety’’ when approving new communities and developments in rural landscapes.

Electoral candidates need two years to get their feet on the ground and I doubt that any advocate for Congressional District 4 will bend the will of Congress when budgets are extremely stressed. Smart growth decisions via the General Plan, combined with hard working grant writers and grassroots movements such as our productive local collaborative, will have far more success in providing the protections and preventatives needed for our communities.

Let us all work together to replace ineffective leaders by being alert to land use decisions and development of our General Plan.

Barbara Farkas is president of Tuolumne County Citizens for Responsible Growth.